book review: Wonderland

Wonderland

Wonderland by Stacey D’Erasmo. Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (May 2014). Contemporary fiction. Hardcover. 256 pages. ISBN 978-0-544-07481-1.

“I blow the song through the back of the rickety concert hall and out into the night, folded, gleaming, fast, faster, unbroken, alive, whirling inside the secret chamber, rose and gold, unstoppable, irresistible, straight into the veins, hair-raising. I take another breath. I am the train, I am the tracks, I am the whistle on the train. I am speeding down the prairie. I heat up.”

She was once a bit of a darling in the alternative scene. Itching to attempt it all one more time, perhaps one last time, 44-year-old alt rocker Anna Brundage recorded an album and financed her own European tour. Her music provided outsiders some solace, recognition. She helped bridge the gap for those misunderstood in society. This could be her last chance for any relevance. For any shot in her music career. For any notoriety.

Exquisitely written. Lyrical style. Filled with lovely descriptions and a phenomenal sense of place. You’re on tour with Anna throughout Europe. If you liked Welcome to the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, you’ll appreciate this novel. Author Stacey D’Erasmo divulges Anna’s story in a journal format which allows the reader to discover Anna through her reflections on family and lovers, past and current tour experiences and aspirations. The novel seamlessly jumps from present to past without being choppy or jolting. D’Erasmo spent time on tour with Scissor Sisters [a FUN live act] and read several memoirs including When I Grow Up by esteemed 40-something alternative singer/songwriter Juliana Hatfield.

The daughter of two artists, it seemed inevitable that Anna and her sister would either follow in their paths or venture into completely uncharted territory. Anna became the musician, sometimes comfortable and relatively reasonable if not terribly risky to her sculptor and potter parents. Although Anna married for a short time it was a marriage to another musician and fragile artistic egos can’t often survive that sort of union. He’d been in her band. Those things carry all kinds of volatility and challenges. Her sister, on the other hand went off to college then later married, settled in Wyoming and raised a family. The complete dichotomy to her wayward, creative sister.

“I didn’t just want to be famous; I wanted to be something better than famous. I wanted to lie down at last in the heat of the gap.”

While on tour Anna hooks up with random guys in cosmopolitan cities, spends the night with one of her band members and contemplates her past and her future in the music industry. She recalls her deepest love, a long-time affair with a married man, Simon, who lived in Switzerland and would meet her almost anywhere out on tour she wanted. She finally broke it off because he said he’d never break up his family. Although Anna didn’t care about marriage and a family she did not want to be put in that tenuous position any longer. During this tour she contacts Simon. They haven’t seen each other for seven years. He’s now to her great astonishment divorced.

Wonderland reveals the darker aspects to being a musician on tour. The waiting, inertia, nervousness, wanting and need for acceptance. It also provides insight into the lighter elements. The triumphs, joys and connections. D’Erasmo evokes alluring moments and reveals vulnerabilities and disappointments. You get the sense what it’s like for Anna and key moments during the tour: on stage, backstage, en route to a venue and after both outstanding and mediocre performances. Recommended to musicians, music aficionados and those who appreciate quality contemporary literature.

RATING: ****/5

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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